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Clinical features, diagnosis, and staging of gastric cancer

Author: Paul F Mansfield, MD, FACS


Section Editor: Kenneth K Tanabe, MD
Deputy Editors: Diane MF Savarese, MD, Shilpa Grover, MD, MPH, AGAF

All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
Literature review current through: Mar 2018. | This topic last updated: Nov 14, 2017.

INTRODUCTION — Most patients with gastric cancer in the United States are symptomatic and already have advanced
incurable disease at the time of presentation. At diagnosis, approximately 50 percent have disease that extends
beyond locoregional confines, and only one-half of those who appear to have locoregional tumor involvement can
undergo a potentially curative resection. Surgically curable early gastric cancers are usually asymptomatic and only
infrequently detected outside the realm of a screening program. Screening is not widely performed, except in countries
which have a very high incidence, such as Japan, Venezuela, and Chile. (See "Gastric cancer screening".)

The common presenting symptoms and diagnostic approaches to gastric cancer will be reviewed here. Epidemiology,
issues related to screening for high-risk patients, and the treatment of gastric cancer are discussed separately. (See
"Epidemiology of gastric cancer" and "Gastric cancer screening" and "Adjuvant and neoadjuvant treatment of gastric
cancer" and "Surgical management of invasive gastric cancer" and "Systemic therapy for locally advanced
unresectable and metastatic esophageal and gastric cancer".)

CLINICAL FEATURES — Weight loss and persistent abdominal pain are the most common symptoms at initial
diagnosis (table 1) [1].

● Weight loss usually results from insufficient caloric intake rather than increased catabolism and may be
attributable to anorexia, nausea, abdominal pain, early satiety, and/or dysphagia.

● When present, abdominal pain tends to be epigastric, vague and mild early in the disease but more severe and
constant as the disease progresses.

● Dysphagia is a common presenting symptom in patients with cancers arising in the proximal stomach (figure 1)
or at the esophagogastric junction.

Patients may also present with nausea or early satiety from the tumor mass or in cases of an aggressive form of
diffuse-type gastric cancer called linitis plastica, from poor distensibility of the stomach. They may also present with a
gastric outlet obstruction from an advanced distal tumor.

Occult gastrointestinal bleeding with or without iron deficiency anemia is not uncommon, while overt bleeding (ie,
melena or hematemesis) is seen in less than 20 percent of cases. The presence of a palpable abdominal mass is the
most common physical finding and generally indicates long-standing, advanced disease [1].

A pseudoachalasia syndrome may occur as the result of involvement of Auerbach's plexus due to local extension or to
malignant obstruction near the gastroesophageal junction. For this reason, gastric cancer needs to be considered in
the differential diagnosis for older patients presenting with achalasia [2].

Approximately 25 percent of patients have a history of gastric ulcer. All gastric ulcers should be followed to complete
healing, and those that do not heal should undergo resection [1]. (See 'Need for follow-up endoscopy for gastric ulcers'
below.)

Signs of tumor extension or spread — The signs and symptoms described above are those most commonly seen at
initial presentation of gastric cancer. More unusual presentations, related to the propensity of gastric cancer to spread
by direct extension through the gastric wall, can also alert the clinician to the diagnosis. As an example, feculent
emesis or passage of recently ingested material in the stool can be seen with malignant gastrocolic fistula, although
this is quite rare. More commonly, colonic obstruction may occur.

Patients may also present with signs or symptoms of distant metastatic disease. The most common metastatic
distribution is to the liver, peritoneal surfaces, and nonregional or distant lymph nodes. Less commonly, ovaries,
central nervous system, bone, pulmonary or soft tissue metastases occur.

Since gastric cancer can spread via lymphatics, the physical examination may reveal a left supraclavicular adenopathy
(a Virchow's node [3]) which is the most common physical examination finding of metastatic disease, a periumbilical
nodule (Sister Mary Joseph's node [4]), or a left axillary node (Irish node).

● Peritoneal spread can present with an enlarged ovary (Krukenberg's tumor [5]) or a mass in the cul-de-sac on
rectal examination (Blumer's shelf [6]). However, there are patients with ovarian metastasis without other
peritoneal disease.

● Ascites can also be the first indication of peritoneal carcinomatosis.

● A palpable liver mass can indicate metastases, although metastatic disease to the liver is often multifocal or
diffuse. Liver involvement is often, but not always, associated with an elevation in the serum alkaline phosphatase
concentration. Jaundice or clinical evidence of liver failure is seen in the preterminal stages of metastatic disease
[7].

Paraneoplastic manifestations — Systemic manifestations of gastric cancer related to paraneoplastic phenomena are


rarely seen at initial presentation. Dermatologic findings may include the sudden appearance of diffuse seborrheic
keratoses (sign of Leser-Trélat) [8] or acanthosis nigricans [9], which is characterized by velvety and darkly pigmented
patches on skin folds. Neither finding is specific for gastric cancer.

Other paraneoplastic abnormalities that can occur in gastric cancer include a microangiopathic hemolytic anemia [10],
membranous nephropathy [11], and hypercoagulable states (Trousseau's syndrome) [12]. Polyarteritis nodosa has
been reported as the single manifestation of an early and surgically curable gastric cancer [13]. (See "Causes and
diagnosis of membranous nephropathy" and "Risk and prevention of venous thromboembolism in adults with cancer"
and "Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of polyarteritis nodosa in adults".)

DIAGNOSIS — Even though a delay in diagnosis has not been associated with a poorer prognosis, a prompt diagnostic
evaluation should be commenced when gastric cancer is suspected.

Endoscopy — Tissue diagnosis and anatomic localization of the primary tumor are best obtained by upper
gastrointestinal endoscopy (picture 1A-B). Although more invasive and more costly, upper endoscopy is also more
sensitive and specific for diagnosing a variety of gastric, esophageal and duodenal lesions than alternative diagnostic
strategies (such as barium studies, see below). The early use of upper endoscopy in patients presenting with
gastrointestinal complaints may be associated with a higher rate of detection of early gastric cancers. (See "Surgical
management of invasive gastric cancer", section on 'Early diagnosis of gastric cancer'.)

The ability to perform biopsy during endoscopy adds to its clinical utility. Since up to 5 percent of malignant ulcers
appear benign grossly, it is imperative that all such lesions be evaluated by biopsy and histologic assessment [14].

Endoscopic techniques — During endoscopy, any suspicious-appearing gastric ulceration should be biopsied. A


single biopsy has a 70 percent sensitivity for diagnosing an existing gastric cancer, while performing seven biopsies
from the ulcer margin and base increases the sensitivity to greater than 98 percent [14]. While it is clear that any
suspicious-appearing lesion requires biopsy, it may be even more important to take numerous biopsies from smaller,
benign-appearing gastric ulcers, since the diagnosis of early gastric cancer offers the greatest opportunity for surgical
cure and long-term survival. (See "Early gastric cancer: Epidemiology, clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and staging".)

The diagnosis of a particularly aggressive form of diffuse-type gastric cancer, so called "linitis plastica", can be difficult
endoscopically. Because these tumors tend to infiltrate the submucosa and muscularis propria, superficial mucosal
biopsies may be falsely negative. For this reason, the combination of strip and bite biopsy techniques should be used
when there is a suspicion of a diffuse type of gastric cancer [15]. Poor distensibility of the stomach or the classic
appearance on barium swallow (described as a leather-flask appearance) may suggest the presence of this disease.
(See 'Barium studies' below.)
Brush cytology increases the sensitivity of single biopsies [16], but the extent to which it enhances diagnostic yield
when seven biopsies are obtained remains unknown. If bleeding with biopsy is of concern to the endoscopist, it is
reasonable to brush the ulcer base, since the risk of bleeding from this technique is negligible.

Need for follow-up endoscopy for gastric ulcers — The indications for a follow-up endoscopy in patients with an
established gastric ulcer is discussed in detail, separately. (See "Peptic ulcer disease: Clinical manifestations and
diagnosis", section on 'Upper endoscopy'.)

Barium studies — Barium studies can identify both malignant gastric ulcers and infiltrating lesions (image 1A-F), and
some early gastric cancers also may be seen (image 2). However, false-negative barium studies can occur in as many
as 50 percent of cases [17]. This is a particular problem in early gastric cancer where the sensitivity of barium meals
may be as low as 14 percent [18]. Thus, in most settings, upper endoscopy is the preferred initial diagnostic test for
patients in whom gastric cancer is suspected. (See "Early gastric cancer: Epidemiology, clinical manifestations,
diagnosis, and staging".)

The one scenario in which a barium study may be superior to upper endoscopy is in patients with linitis plastica. The
decreased distensibility of the stiff, "leather-flask" appearing stomach is more obvious on the radiographic study, and
the endoscopic appearance may be relatively normal (image 3).

STAGING AND PREOPERATIVE EVALUATION

Staging systems — There are two major classification systems currently in use for gastric cancer. The most elaborate,
the Japanese classification, is based upon refined anatomic location, particularly of the lymph node stations [19]. The
other and more widely used staging system, developed jointly by the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) and
the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), is the classification most often used in the Western hemisphere and
now commonly in Asian countries as well.

TNM staging criteria — The staging schema of the AJCC/UICC is based upon tumor, node, metastasis (TNM)
classifications.

The most recent revision of the AJCC/UICC TNM staging classification (eighth edition, 2017) includes separate
prognostic stage groups for clinical and pathologic staging, including pathologic staging after neoadjuvant therapy (yp
stage) (table 2) [20]. The stratification in overall survival according to pathologic stage in the absence of neoadjuvant
therapy (figure 2) [21] and following neoadjuvant therapy are depicted in the figures (figure 3) [20].

One of the most important changes from the earlier 2010 classification is a redefinition of the boundary between
esophageal and gastric cancers. Tumors involving the esophagogastric junction (EGJ) with the tumor epicenter no
more than 2 cm into the proximal stomach are staged as esophageal rather than gastric cancers (table 3). In contrast,
EGJ tumors with their epicenter located more than 2 cm into the proximal stomach are staged as stomach cancers.
(See "Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and staging of esophageal cancer", section on 'TNM staging criteria' and
"Multimodality approaches to potentially resectable esophagogastric junction and gastric cardia adenocarcinomas",
section on 'AJCC classification' and "Multimodality approaches to potentially resectable esophagogastric junction and
gastric cardia adenocarcinomas", section on 'Siewert classification'.)

The regional nodes for tumors involving different parts of the stomach are depicted in the figure (figure 4).
Involvement of other intraabdominal nodal groups (ie, pancreatoduodenal, retropancreatic, peripancreatic, superior
mesenteric, middle colic, paraaortic, and retroperitoneal) is classified as distant metastases [20].

Clinical staging and the selection of treatment — Although staging is most accurately determined through surgical
pathology, clinical staging directs the initial approach to therapy:

● Patients who appear to have locoregional disease (stage I to III (table 2)) after preoperative testing are potentially
curable; all patients with a primary tumor that is considered to invade through the submucosa (T2 or higher) or
with a high suspicion of nodal involvement on pretreatment staging studies should be referred for
multidisciplinary evaluation to identify the best treatment strategy. (See "Adjuvant and neoadjuvant treatment of
gastric cancer" and "Surgical management of invasive gastric cancer", section on 'Adjuvant and neoadjuvant
therapy' and "Multimodality approaches to potentially resectable esophagogastric junction and gastric cardia
adenocarcinomas", section on 'Multimodality approaches in major clinical trials'.)
● Patients with advanced stage IV disease are usually referred for palliative therapy depending on their symptoms
and functional status. Multiple studies indicate both longer survival and better quality of life with systemic
treatment. (See "Systemic therapy for locally advanced unresectable and metastatic esophageal and gastric
cancer".)

Preoperative evaluation — The purpose of the preoperative evaluation is to initially stratify patients into two clinical
groups: those with locoregional, potentially resectable (stage I to III (table 2)) disease and those with systemic (stage
IV) involvement.

Indicators of unresectability — The only widely accepted criteria of unresectability for gastric cancer are the
presence of distant metastases and invasion of a major vascular structure, such as the aorta, or disease encasement
or occlusion of the hepatic artery or celiac axis/proximal splenic artery. Distal splenic artery involvement is not an
indicator of unresectability; the vessel can be resected en bloc with a left upper quadrant exenteration: stomach,
spleen and distal pancreas. (See "Surgical management of invasive gastric cancer", section on 'Indicators of
unresectability'.)

The lymphatics around the stomach are rich, and the presence of locoregional lymph node metastases that are
located geographically distant from the tumor (eg, celiac nodes with a primary tumor on the greater curvature of the
stomach) should not necessarily be considered an indicator of unresectability. However:

● Patients who have bulky adenopathy fixed to the pancreatic head that might indicate the need for a Whipple
procedure are at a high risk for occult metastatic disease. In these cases, it is probably best to consider staging
laparoscopy or upfront chemotherapy or combined modality therapy rather than surgery initially. Performance of a
Whipple for gastric cancer is an extremely rare occurrence. (See "Surgical management of invasive gastric
cancer", section on 'Staging laparoscopy' and "Surgical management of invasive gastric cancer", section on
'Neoadjuvant chemotherapy and chemoradiotherapy'.)

● Lymph nodes behind or inferior to the pancreas, aorto-caval region, into the mediastinum, or in the porta hepatis
are typically considered outside of the surgical field and thus evidence of unresectability. These nodes would fall
into areas that would be defined as third or fourth echelon nodes in the Japanese nomenclature.

In about 5 percent of primary gastric cancers, a broad region of the gastric wall or even the entire stomach is
extensively infiltrated by malignancy, resulting in a rigid thickened stomach, termed linitis plastica. Linitis plastica has
an extremely poor prognosis, and many surgeons consider the presence of linitis plastica to be a contraindication to
potentially curative resection. (See "Surgical management of invasive gastric cancer", section on 'Linitis plastica'.)

Abdominopelvic CT scan — Dynamic computerized tomography (CT) scan imaging is usually performed early in the
preoperative evaluation after a diagnosis of gastric cancer is made. CT is widely available and noninvasive. It is best
suited to evaluating widely metastatic disease, especially hepatic or adnexal metastases, ascites, or distant nodal
spread. Patients who have CT-defined visceral metastatic disease can avoid unnecessary surgery, although biopsy
confirmation is recommended because of the risk of false-positive findings.

Peritoneal metastases and hematogenous metastases smaller than 5 mm are frequently missed by CT, even using
modern CT techniques [22]. In 20 to 30 percent of patients with a negative CT, intraperitoneal disease will be found at
either staging laparoscopy or at open exploration [23-25].

Another limitation of CT is its inability to accurately assess the depth of primary tumor invasion (particularly with small
tumors) and the presence of lymph node involvement. CT accurately assesses the T stage of the primary tumor in only
about 50 to 70 percent of cases [26-32]. The tumor is more often understaged because the depth of invasion is
underestimated; however, overstaging also occurs.

The classification of nodal status is usually based on lymph node size, and sensitivity of CT for detecting regional
nodal metastases is limited for involved nodes that are smaller than 0.8 cm [26,31]. Furthermore, false-positive
findings may be attributed to inflammatory lymphadenopathy. In series of patients undergoing staging CT for gastric
cancer or gastric and esophageal cancer, sensitivity and specificity rates for regional nodal metastases range from 65
to 97, and 49 to 90 percent, respectively [33-37].

Endoscopic ultrasonography — Endoscopic ultrasonography (EUS) is thought to be the most reliable nonsurgical


method available for evaluating the depth of invasion of primary gastric cancers, particularly for early (T1) lesions
(table 2) [38]. In a systematic review of studies comparing EUS staging versus histopathology as the reference
standard, the summary sensitivity and specificity rates for distinguishing T1 from T2 cancers with EUS were 85 and 90
percent, respectively [39]. The sensitivity and specificity for distinguishing T1/2 versus T3/4 tumors were 86 and 90
percent, respectively. For metastatic involvement of lymph nodes, the summary sensitivity and specificity rates were
83 and 67 percent, respectively. There was significant between-study heterogeneity that could not be easily explained.
However, as with any technical endeavor, there is a degree of variability in operator expertise, which could at least
partially explain these findings. Furthermore, the analysis of positive and negative likelihood ratios revealed that EUS
diagnostic performance was favorable neither for exclusion or confirmation of nodal positivity. Thus, EUS cannot be
considered optimal for distinguishing positive versus negative lymph node status.

In comparative studies of preoperative staging, EUS generally provides a more accurate prediction of T stage than
does CT [40-43], although newer CT techniques (such as three-dimensional multidetector row CT) and MRI may
achieve similar results in terms of diagnostic accuracy in T staging [37,44,45]. In contrast, accuracy for nodal staging
is only slightly greater for EUS as compared with CT [40,46-51]. EUS-guided fine needle aspiration of suspicious nodes
and regional areas adds to the accuracy of nodal staging [52]. (See "Endoscopic ultrasound-guided fine-needle
aspiration biopsy in the gastrointestinal tract".)

EUS is a relatively low-risk procedure, although it is more invasive than CT. One review quoted a risk of serious
complications of 0.3 percent, most of which occurred in the setting of obstructing esophageal tumors [53]. (See
"Endoscopic ultrasound in esophageal carcinoma".)

The routine use of staging EUS can sometimes alter the therapeutic plan because of the finding of otherwise occult
distant metastases (eg, left lobe hepatic lesions, ascites) [54]. However, due to the limited field of vision with the
echoendoscope, the utility of EGD as a screen for metastatic disease is questionable.

Perhaps more importantly, an accurate assessment of T and N stage has become important for selecting the
therapeutic approach:

● Neoadjuvant chemotherapy or chemoradiotherapy may be recommended for patients with a primary tumor that is
considered to invade into the muscularis propria (T2 or higher) or with a high suspicion of nodal involvement on
pretreatment staging studies. (See "Adjuvant and neoadjuvant treatment of gastric cancer", section on 'Initially
locally unresectable nonmetastatic disease' and "Multimodality approaches to potentially resectable
esophagogastric junction and gastric cardia adenocarcinomas", section on 'Multimodality approaches in major
clinical trials' and "Adjuvant and neoadjuvant treatment of gastric cancer", section on 'Neoadjuvant
chemoradiotherapy'.)

● EUS is also of value for patients with early gastric cancer because accurate assessment of submucosal invasion
is essential before considering the option of endoscopic mucosal resection. (See "Early gastric cancer:
Epidemiology, clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and staging".)

In light of these considerations, EUS is now recommended for pretreatment evaluation of gastric cancer in patients
who have no evidence of metastatic (M1) disease in guidelines from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network
(NCCN).

PET scan — The role of positron emission tomography (PET) using 18-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) in the
preoperative staging of gastric adenocarcinoma is evolving. From the standpoint of locoregional staging, integrated
PET/CT imaging can be useful to confirm malignant involvement of CT-detected lymphadenopathy [55]. However, this
usually does not impact the decision to proceed to surgery. Furthermore, a negative PET is not helpful since even large
tumors with a diameter of several centimeters can be falsely negative if the tumor cells have a fairly low metabolic
activity. Furthermore, most diffuse type gastric cancers (signet ring carcinomas) are not FDG avid [56-60].

The main benefit of PET is that it is more sensitive than CT for the detection of distant metastases (image 4) [60-63].
In one prospective study, integrated PET/CT identified otherwise radiographically occult metastatic lesions in
approximately 10 percent of patients with locally advanced gastric cancer (≥T3 or ≥N1 disease (table 2)) [63]. An
important caveat is that the sensitivity of PET scanning for peritoneal carcinomatosis is only approximately 50 percent
[64]. Thus, PET is not an adequate replacement for staging laparoscopy.

NCCN guidelines for preoperative evaluation of gastric cancer suggest integrated PET/CT.

Chest imaging — A preoperative chest radiograph is recommended in patients with gastric cancer. However, the
sensitivity for metastases is limited, and a chest CT scan is preferred (particularly for patients with a proximal gastric
cancer) if the detection of intrathoracic disease would alter the treatment plan.

Serologic markers — Serum levels of carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), the glycoprotein CA 125 antigen (CA 125),
CA 19-9 (carbohydrate antigen 19-9, also called cancer antigen 19-9), and cancer antigen 72-4 (CA72 4) may be
elevated in patients with gastric cancer [65-69]. However, low rates of sensitivity and specificity prevent the use of any
of these serologic markers as diagnostic tests for gastric cancer.

In a minority of patients, a drop in an elevated level of CEA and/or CA 125 may correlate with response to preoperative
therapy, but clinical decisions are almost never made based upon tumor marker changes alone. Likewise, in many [70-
80] but not all studies [68,81], preoperative elevations in serum tumor markers are an independent indicator of adverse
prognosis. However, no serologic finding should be used to exclude a patient from surgical consideration.
Recommendations for preoperative evaluation and staging of gastric cancer from the NCCN do not include assay of
any tumor marker.

Some gastric cancers are associated with elevated serum levels of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP); they are referred to as
alpha-fetoprotein producing gastric cancers [82-85]. A subset, hepatoid adenocarcinomas of the stomach, has a
histologic appearance that is similar to that of hepatocellular cancer (HCC). Regardless of morphology, AFP-producing
gastric cancers are aggressive and associated with a poor prognosis.

Increases in serum pepsinogen II or decreases in the pepsinogen I:pepsinogen II ratio has been used in population
screening programs to identify patients at increased risk for gastric cancer but are insufficiently sensitive or specific
for establishing a diagnosis in an individual patient. (See "Classification and diagnosis of gastritis and gastropathy".)

STAGING LAPAROSCOPY — Laparoscopy, while more invasive than CT or EUS, has the advantage of directly
visualizing the liver surface, the peritoneum, and local lymph nodes. Between 20 and 30 percent of patients who have
disease that is beyond T1 stage on EUS will be found to have peritoneal metastases despite having a negative CT scan
[23-25,86,87]. The risk of finding occult peritoneal dissemination is even higher for certain subsets of patients
including those with advanced (T4) primary tumors, or a linitis plastica appearance [88]. In such cases, performance of
a diagnostic laparoscopy may alter management (typically by avoiding an unnecessary laparotomy) in up to one-half
of patients [88,89]. As noted previously, the sensitivity of PET scans for the detection of peritoneal carcinomatosis is
only about 50 percent. (See 'PET scan' above and "Surgical management of invasive gastric cancer", section on 'Linitis
plastica'.)

Another advantage to laparoscopy is the opportunity to perform peritoneal cytology in patients who have no visible
evidence of peritoneal spread. In most (but not all [90]) series this is a poor prognostic sign, even in the absence of
overt peritoneal dissemination, and predicts for early peritoneal relapse [91-93]. The majority of patients who are
found to have peritoneal disease on laparoscopy will never require a laparotomy or resection. However, at some
institutions (including our own) positive peritoneal cytology in the absence of other evidence of intraabdominal
disease is an indication for neoadjuvant therapy.

At our institution, we routinely obtain peritoneal washings during laparoscopy in patients who lack visible peritoneal
disease, and refer patients with positive cytology in the absence of other evidence of metastatic disease for
neoadjuvant approaches. (See "Surgical management of invasive gastric cancer", section on 'Neoadjuvant
chemotherapy and chemoradiotherapy'.)

Some experts suggest that all patients with EUS stage T3/4 disease should undergo staging laparoscopy, but not
those with earlier stage disease [25]. However, we believe it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate T2 and T3
lesions on EUS. In keeping with consensus-based guidelines from the NCCN, our practice is to use preoperative
staging laparoscopy for any medically fit patient who appears to have more than a T1 lesion on EUS, no histologic
confirmation of stage IV disease, and who would not otherwise require a palliative gastrectomy because of symptoms.
Diagnostic laparoscopy is especially important for patients who are being considered for neoadjuvant therapy trials.
(See "Adjuvant and neoadjuvant treatment of gastric cancer".)

SOCIETY GUIDELINE LINKS — Links to society and government-sponsored guidelines from selected countries and
regions around the world are provided separately. (See "Society guideline links: Gastric cancer".)

INFORMATION FOR PATIENTS — UpToDate offers two types of patient education materials, "The Basics" and "Beyond
the Basics." The Basics patient education pieces are written in plain language, at the 5th to 6th grade reading level, and
they answer the four or five key questions a patient might have about a given condition. These articles are best for
patients who want a general overview and who prefer short, easy-to-read materials. Beyond the Basics patient
education pieces are longer, more sophisticated, and more detailed. These articles are written at the 10th to 12th grade
reading level and are best for patients who want in-depth information and are comfortable with some medical jargon.

Here are the patient education articles that are relevant to this topic. We encourage you to print or e-mail these topics
to your patients. (You can also locate patient education articles on a variety of subjects by searching on "patient info"
and the keyword(s) of interest.)

● Basics topics (see "Patient education: Stomach cancer (The Basics)" and "Patient education: Upper endoscopy
(The Basics)")

● Beyond the Basics topics (see "Patient education: Upper endoscopy (Beyond the Basics)")

SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

● For patients presenting with symptoms suggestive of a gastric cancer, diagnostic upper endoscopy is generally
preferred over barium studies. The one setting where a barium swallow may be superior to upper endoscopy is in
a patient with linitis plastica. (See 'Diagnosis' above.)

● Patients with documented gastric cancer should undergo a staging evaluation in order to guide therapy and more
reliably predict outcome. Careful staging allows the clinician to select the most appropriate therapy, minimizes
unnecessary surgery, and maximizes the likelihood of benefit from the selected treatment. (See 'Staging and
preoperative evaluation' above.)

● The most commonly used staging schema is that of the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC)/Union for
International Cancer Control (UICC), which is based upon tumor, node, metastasis (TNM) classifications. The
most recent version (eighth edition, 2017) includes separate prognostic stage groups for clinical and pathologic
staging, including pathologic staging after neoadjuvant therapy (yp stage) (table 2). One of the most important
changes compared with the earlier 2010 classification is a redefinition of the boundary between esophageal and
gastric cancers. Tumors involving the esophagogastric junction (EGJ) with the tumor epicenter no more than 2
cm into the proximal stomach are staged as esophageal cancers, while EGJ tumors with their epicenter located
more than 2 cm into the proximal stomach are staged as stomach cancers, as are all cardia cancers not involving
the EGJ. (See 'TNM staging criteria' above.)

● The ultimate choice of staging modalities is dependent upon the clinical scenario and local expertise. We
recommend the following approach, which is consistent with guidelines from the National Comprehensive Cancer
Network (NCCN):

• Abdominopelvic CT scan is indicated to look for metastatic disease (M stage); it should not be relied upon for
assessing tumor depth or lymph node involvement (T or N staging, respectively) or the presence of peritoneal
metastases. (See 'Abdominopelvic CT scan' above.)

• Suspicious visceral lesions require biopsy confirmation. Paracentesis should be performed when ascites is
detected, and the fluid sent for cytology and standard chemical analysis.

• A preoperative chest radiograph is recommended; chest CT scan is preferred (particularly for patients with a
proximal gastric cancer) if the detection of intrathoracic disease would alter the treatment plan.

• Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) is better than CT at assessing tumor depth (T stage) and perhaps lymph node
involvement (N stage), particularly if fine-needle aspiration is also performed. An accurate assessment of T
and N stage is important for treatment selection, particularly in selecting patients for neoadjuvant
chemotherapy or chemoradiotherapy rather than initial surgery. In keeping with guidelines from the NCCN, we
perform EUS for patients who have no evidence of metastatic (M1) disease. (See 'Endoscopic
ultrasonography' above.)

• If the radiographic staging evaluation is otherwise negative for metastatic disease, integrated PET/CT is a
reasonable addition to the preoperative staging evaluation for patients with ≥T2N0 disease, mainly to screen
for distant metastases. As with CT, suspicious visceral lesions warrant biopsy. (See 'PET scan' above.)

• Serum tumor markers (including CEA and CA 125) are of limited utility, and we do not routinely assay for
them, unless a patient is undergoing neoadjuvant therapy. (See 'Serologic markers' above.)
• In our view, staging laparoscopy is indicated in all medically fit patients who appear to have more than a T1
(table 2) lesion on EUS, no histologic confirmation of stage IV disease, and who would not otherwise require a
palliative gastrectomy because of symptoms. Diagnostic laparoscopy should also be undertaken in patients
who are being considered for neoadjuvant therapy. We routinely obtain peritoneal washings during
laparoscopy in the absence of visible peritoneal disease. (See 'Staging laparoscopy' above.)

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Topic 2513 Version 36.0


GRAPHICS

Presenting symptoms of gastric cancer in 18,363 patients

Symptom Percent

Weight loss 62

Abdominal pain 52

Nausea 34

Dysphagia 26

Melena 20

Early satiety 18

Ulcer-type pain 17

Adapted from Wanebo, HJ, Kennedy, BJ, Chmiel, J, et al, Ann Surg 1993; 218:583.

Graphic 67702 Version 1.0


Parts of the stomach

This drawing shows the parts of the anterior surface of the stomach. The body of the stomach is separated from
the pyloric part by an oblique line which extends from the angular notch (incisura angularis) on the lesser
curvature to the greater curvature.

Graphic 79793 Version 3.0


Malignant and benign gastric ulcer: Endoscopic appearance

Endoscopy showing the differences between the endoscopic appearance of malignant and
benign gastric ulcers.
(A) Retroflexed views were required on endoscopy to detect this malignant gastric ulcer of
the cardia. Note the absence of folds radiating to the base and the exophytic appearance.
Biopsies confirmed the presence of adenocarcinoma.
(B) Benign gastric ulcer in the prepyloric region. The ulcer is well-circumscribed with folds
radiating to the ulcer base.

Courtesy of Paul C Schroy III, MD.

Graphic 58136 Version 3.0


Endoscopic appearances of gastric cancer

Endoscopy shows different appearances of a gastric adenocarcinoma. Upper panel:


Adenocarcinoma in the antrum manifested by a friable, ulcerated, and circumferential mass.
Lower panel: Adenocarcinoma of the cardia. This large, lobulated, ulcerated mass was seen
only by retroflexed views of the gastroesophageal junction.

Courtesy of Paul C Schroy III, MD.

Graphic 71672 Version 1.0


Malignant and benign gastric ulcer as seen on upper gastrointestinal (UGI) series

Upper GI series showing the differences between a malignant and benign gastric ulcer.
(A) Malignant gastric ulcer of the distal lesser curvature. There is the biconvex meniscus sign with a nodular ulcer
mound (arrow).
(B) Benign gastric ulcer of the lesser curvature. The ulcer crater has smooth margins and projects beyond the gastric
wall (arrow).

Courtesy of Paul C Schroy, III, MD.

Graphic 62708 Version 4.0

Normal upper GI series

Normal air-contrast upper GI study showing normal gastric folds and small intestinal
anatomy, and no masses.

GI: gastrointestinal.

Courtesy of Paul C Schroy III, MD.

Graphic 81537 Version 5.0


Malignant gastric ulcer

Double contrast upper GI study demonstrates a large barium-filled ulcer crater (arrow)
surrounded by edematous mucosa. The ulcer is extending from the stomach, across the
pylorus and into the duodenum, features that are not seen with benign ulcers.

GI: gastrointestinal.

Courtesy of Norman Joffe, MD.

Graphic 64355 Version 3.0

Normal upper GI series

Normal air-contrast upper GI study showing normal gastric folds and small intestinal
anatomy, and no masses.

GI: gastrointestinal.

Courtesy of Paul C Schroy III, MD.

Graphic 81537 Version 5.0


Infiltrating gastric carcinoma

Upper GI series showing infiltrating gastric carcinoma in the region of the incisura. There is
irregular narrowing affecting both the lesser and greater curvatures (arrow).

GI: gastrointestinal.

Courtesy of Paul C Schroy III, MD.

Graphic 62794 Version 3.0

Normal upper GI series

Normal air-contrast upper GI study showing normal gastric folds and small intestinal
anatomy, and no masses.

GI: gastrointestinal.

Courtesy of Paul C Schroy III, MD.

Graphic 81537 Version 5.0


Gastric cancer

A double contrast upper GI study demonstrates a gastric cancer infiltrating the wall of the
gastric antrum producing an apple core lesion (arrow).

GI: gastrointestinal.

Courtesy of Jonthan Kruskal, MD, PhD.

Graphic 51673 Version 3.0

Normal upper GI series

Normal air-contrast upper GI study showing normal gastric folds and small intestinal
anatomy, and no masses.

GI: gastrointestinal.

Courtesy of Paul C Schroy III, MD.

Graphic 81537 Version 5.0


Leiomyoma of the stomach

Upper gastrointestinal study demonstrates a well circumscribed smooth-appearing mass


(large arrows) arising from the wall of the proximal lesser curvature of the stomach. A small
central ulcer crater filled with barium (small arrow) along with the well-defined margins of
the mass are typically seen with leiomyomas.

Courtesy of Jonathan Kruskal, MD, PhD.

Graphic 51893 Version 3.0

Normal upper GI series

Normal air-contrast upper GI study showing normal gastric folds and small intestinal
anatomy, and no masses.

GI: gastrointestinal.

Courtesy of Paul C Schroy III, MD.

Graphic 81537 Version 5.0


Leiomyosarcoma of the stomach

Double contrast upper gastrointestinal study demonstrates a large irregular polypoid mass
arising from the greater curvature of the stomach. Irregular masses arising from this site are
typically malignant.

Courtesy of Norman Joffe, MD.

Graphic 63601 Version 2.0

Normal upper GI series

Normal air-contrast upper GI study showing normal gastric folds and small intestinal
anatomy, and no masses.

GI: gastrointestinal.

Courtesy of Paul C Schroy III, MD.

Graphic 81537 Version 5.0


Early gastric cancer as seen on upper gastrointestinal (UGI) series

A double contrast upper gastrointestinal study shows a superficial ulcer in the gastric
antrum (arrow) with thickened folds radiating towards the ulcer.

Courtesy of Norman Joffe, MD.

Graphic 61767 Version 5.0


Linitis plastica of the stomach as seen on UGI series

UGI study reveals fixed narrowing of the entire proximal stomach (arrows) due to
submucosal invasion by a gastric cancer. Other malignancies, such as breast and lung
metastases to the stomach, may have a similar appearance.

UGI: upper gastrointestinal.

Courtesy of Jonathan Kruskal, MD, PhD.

Graphic 79963 Version 5.0

Normal upper GI series

Normal air-contrast upper GI study showing normal gastric folds and small intestinal
anatomy, and no masses.

GI: gastrointestinal.

Courtesy of Paul C Schroy III, MD.

Graphic 81537 Version 5.0


Stomach cancer TNM staging AJCC UICC 2017

Primary tumor (T)


T category T criteria

TX Primary tumor cannot be assessed

T0 No evidence of primary tumor

Tis Carcinoma in situ: Intraepithelial tumor without invasion of the lamina propria, high-grade dysplasia

T1 Tumor invades the lamina propria, muscularis mucosae, or submucosa

T1a Tumor invades the lamina propria or muscularis mucosae

T1b Tumor invades the submucosa

T2 Tumor invades the muscularis propria*

T3 Tumor penetrates the subserosal connective tissue without invasion of the visceral peritoneum or adjacent
structures ¶ Δ

T4 Tumor invades the serosa (visceral peritoneum) or adjacent structures ¶ Δ

T4a Tumor invades the serosa (visceral peritoneum)

T4b Tumor invades adjacent structures/organs

* A tumor may penetrate the muscularis propria with extension into the gastrocolic or gastrohepatic ligaments, or into the greater or lesser
omentum, without perforation of the visceral peritoneum covering these structures. In this case, the tumor is classified as T3. If there is
perforation of the visceral peritoneum covering the gastric ligaments or the omentum, the tumor should be classified as T4.
¶ The adjacent structures of the stomach include the spleen, transverse colon, liver, diaphragm, pancreas, abdominal wall, adrenal gland,
kidney, small intestine, and retroperitoneum.
Δ Intramural extension to the duodenum or esophagus is not considered invasion of an adjacent structure, but is classified using the depth of
the greatest invasion in any of these sites.

Regional lymph nodes (N)


N category N criteria

NX Regional lymph node(s) cannot be assessed

N0 No regional lymph node metastasis

N1 Metastasis in one or two regional lymph nodes

N2 Metastasis in three to six regional lymph nodes

N3 Metastasis in seven or more regional lymph nodes

N3a Metastasis in 7 to 15 regional lymph nodes

N3b Metastasis in 16 or more regional lymph nodes

Distant metastasis (M)


M category M criteria

M0 No distant metastasis

M1 Distant metastasis

Prognostic stage groups


Clinical (cTNM)

When T is... And N is... And M is... Then the stage group is...

Tis N0 M0 0

T1 N0 M0 I

T2 N0 M0 I

T1 N1, N2, or N3 M0 IIA

T2 N1, N2, or N3 M0 IIA

T3 N0 M0 IIB

T4a N0 M0 IIB

T3 N1, N2, or N3 M0 III

T4a N1, N2, or N3 M0 III

T4b Any N M0 IVA

Any T Any N M1 IVB


Pathological (pTNM)

When T is... And N is... And M is... Then the stage group is...

Tis N0 M0 0

T1 N0 M0 IA

T1 N1 M0 IB

T2 N0 M0 IB

T1 N2 M0 IIA

T2 N1 M0 IIA

T3 N0 M0 IIA

T1 N3a M0 IIB

T2 N2 M0 IIB

T3 N1 M0 IIB

T4a N0 M0 IIB

T2 N3a M0 IIIA

T3 N2 M0 IIIA

T4a N1 M0 IIIA

T4a N2 M0 IIIA

T4b N0 M0 IIIA

T1 N3b M0 IIIB

T2 N3b M0 IIIB

T3 N3a M0 IIIB

T4a N3a M0 IIIB

T4b N1 M0 IIIB

T4b N2 M0 IIIB

T3 N3b M0 IIIC

T4a N3b M0 IIIC

T4b N3a M0 IIIC

T4b N3b M0 IIIC

Any T Any N M1 IV

Post-neoadjuvant therapy (ypTNM)

When T is... And N is... And M is... Then the stage group is...

T1 N0 M0 I

T2 N0 M0 I

T1 N1 M0 I

T3 N0 M0 II

T2 N1 M0 II

T1 N2 M0 II

T4a N0 M0 II

T3 N1 M0 II

T2 N2 M0 II

T1 N3 M0 II

T4a N1 M0 III

T3 N2 M0 III

T2 N3 M0 III

T4b N0 M0 III

T4b N1 M0 III

T4a N2 M0 III

T3 N3 M0 III

T4b N2 M0 III
T4b N3 M0 III

T4a N3 M0 III

Any T Any N M1 IV

TNM: tumor, node, metastasis; AJCC: American Joint Committee on Cancer; UICC: Union for International Cancer Control.

Used with permission of the American College of Surgeons, Chicago, Illinois. The original source for this information is the AJCC Cancer Staging Manual,
Eighth Edition (2017) published by Springer International Publishing.

Graphic 111190 Version 2.0


Overall survival in gastric cancer patients who underwent surgical resection with adequate lymphadenectomy
without prior chemotherapy or radiation therapy, stratified by pathologic stage groupings (8th edition AJCC, 2017)

(A) Pathological stage (pTNM) and overall survival in gastric cancer patients who underwent surgical resection with adequate lymphadenectomy
(D2) without prior chemotherapy or radiation therapy, stratified by pathological stage groupings, based on IGCA data (2000-2004; only patients with
complete 5-year follow-up were included, n = 25,411).
(B) Pathological stage and 1-, 3-, and 5-year and median overall survivals in patients with gastric cancer who received curative surgery, stratified by
pathological stage groupings, based on IGCA data.

AJCC: American Joint Committee on Cancer; IGCA: International Gastric Cancer Association.

Used with permission of the American College of Surgeons, Chicago, Illinois. The original source for this information is the AJCC Cancer Staging Manual, Eighth
Edition (2017) published by Springer International Publishing.

Graphic 111192 Version 2.0


Post neoadjuvant therapy stage (ypTNM) and overall survival for patients who underwent resection and were
given chemotherapy and/or RT prior to surgery, stratified by prognostic stage group (8th edition, 2017)

(A) Post neoadjuvant therapy stage (ypTNM) and overall survival in patients who underwent surgical resection and were given chemotherapy
and/or RT before surgery, stratified by ypStage groupings, based on NCDB data (2004-2008; median follow-up, 23 months; n = 683).
(B) Post neoadjuvant therapy stage (ypTNM) and 1-, 3-, and 5-year and median overall survivals in patients with gastric cancer, stratified by
ypStage groupings, based on NCDB data.

RT: radiation therapy; n: number; NCDB: National Cancer Database.

Used with permission of the American College of Surgeons, Chicago, Illinois. The original source for this information is the AJCC Cancer Staging Manual,
Eighth Edition (2017) published by Springer International Publishing.

Graphic 111193 Version 2.0


Esophagus and esophagogastric junction cancers TNM staging AJCC UICC 2017

Primary tumor (T), squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma


T category T criteria

TX Tumor cannot be assessed

T0 No evidence of primary tumor

Tis High-grade dysplasia, defined as malignant cells confined to the epithelium by the basement membrane

T1 Tumor invades the lamina propria, muscularis mucosae, or submucosa

T1a Tumor invades the lamina propria or muscularis mucosae

T1b Tumor invades the submucosa

T2 Tumor invades the muscularis propria

T3 Tumor invades adventitia

T4 Tumor invades adjacent structures

T4a Tumor invades the pleura, pericardium, azygos ven, diaphragm, or peritoneum

T4b Tumor invades other adjacent structures, such as the aorta, vertebral body, or airway

Regional lymph nodes (N), squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma


N category N criteria

NX Regional lymph nodes cannot be assessed

N0 No regional lymph node metastasis

N1 Metastasis in one or two regional lymph nodes

N2 Metastasis in three to six regional lymph nodes

N3 Metastasis in seven or more regional lymph nodes

Distant metastasis (M), squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma


M category M criteria

M0 No distant metastasis

M1 Distant metastasis

Histologic grade (G), squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma


G G definition

GX Grade cannot be assessed

G1 Well differentiated

G2 Moderately differentiated

G3 Poorly differentiated, undifferentiated

Location (L), squamous cell carcinoma


Location plays a role in the stage grouping of esophageal squamous cancers.

Location category Location criteria

X Location unknown

Upper Cervical esophagus to lower border of azygos vein

Middle Lower border of azygos vein to lower border of inferior pulmonary vein

Lower Lower border of inferior pulmonary vein to stomach, including gastroesophageal junction

NOTE: Location is defined by the position of the epicenter of the tumor in the esophagus.

Prognostic stage groups, squamous cell carcinoma


Clinical (cTNM)

When cT is... And cN is... And M is... Then the stage group is...

Tis N0 M0 0

T1 N0-1 M0 I

T2 N0-1 M0 II

T3 N0 M0 II
T3 N1 M0 III

T1-3 N2 M0 III

T4 N0-2 M0 IVA

Any T N3 M0 IVA

Any T Any N M1 IVB

Pathological (pTNM)

When pT is... And pN is... And M is... And G is... And location is... Then the stage group
is...

Tis N0 M0 N/A Any 0

T1a N0 M0 G1 Any IA

T1a N0 M0 G2-3 Any IB

T1a N0 M0 GX Any IA

T1b N0 M0 G1-3 Any IB

T1b N0 M0 GX Any IB

T2 N0 M0 G1 Any IB

T2 N0 M0 G2-3 Any IIA

T2 N0 M0 GX Any IIA

T3 N0 M0 Any Lower IIA

T3 N0 M0 G1 Upper/middle IIA

T3 N0 M0 G2-3 Upper/middle IIB

T3 N0 M0 GX Any IIB

T3 N0 M0 Any Location X IIB

T1 N1 M0 Any Any IIB

T1 N2 M0 Any Any IIIA

T2 N1 M0 Any Any IIIA

T2 N2 M0 Any Any IIIB

T3 N1-2 M0 Any Any IIIB

T4a N0-1 M0 Any Any IIIB

T4a N2 M0 Any Any IVA

T4b N0-2 M0 Any Any IVA

Any T N3 M0 Any Any IVA

Any T Any N M1 Any Any IVB

Postneoadjuvant therapy (ypTNM)

When yp T is... And yp N is... And M is... Then the stage group is...

T0-2 N0 M0 I

T3 N0 M0 II

T0-2 N1 M0 IIIA

T3 N1 M0 IIIB

T0-3 N2 M0 IIIB

T4a N0 M0 IIIB

T4a N1-2 M0 IVA

T4a NX M0 IVA

T4b N0-2 M0 IVA

Any T N3 M0 IVA

Any T Any N M1 IVB

Prognostic stage groups, adenocarcinoma


Clinical (cTNM)

When cT is... And cN is... And M is... Then the stage group is...

Tis N0 M0 0
T1 N0 M0 I

T1 N1 M0 IIA

T2 N0 M0 IIB

T2 N1 M0 III

T3 N0-1 M0 III

T4a N0-1 M0 III

T1-4a N2 M0 IVA

T4b N0-2 M0 IVA

Any T N3 M0 IVA

Any T Any N M1 IVB

Pathological (pTNM)

When pT is... And pN is... And M is... And G is... Then the stage group is...

Tis N0 M0 N/A 0

T1a N0 M0 G1 IA

T1a N0 M0 GX IA

T1a N0 M0 G2 IB

T1b N0 M0 G1-2 IB

T1b N0 M0 GX IB

T1 N0 M0 G3 IC

T2 N0 M0 G1-2 IC

T2 N0 M0 G3 IIA

T2 N0 M0 GX IIA

T1 N1 M0 Any IIB

T3 N0 M0 Any IIB

T1 N2 M0 Any IIIA

T2 N1 M0 Any IIIA

T2 N2 M0 Any IIIB

T3 N1-2 M0 Any IIIB

T4a N0-1 M0 Any IIIB

T4a N2 M0 Any IVA

T4b N0-2 M0 Any IVA

Any T N3 M0 Any IVA

Any T Any N M1 Any IVB

Postneoadjuvant therapy (ypTNM)

When yp T is... And yp N is... And M is... Then the stage group is...

T0-2 N0 M0 I

T3 N0 M0 II

T0-2 N1 M0 IIIA

T3 N1 M0 IIIB

T0-3 N2 M0 IIIB

T4a N0 M0 IIIB

T4a N1-2 M0 IVA

T4a NX M0 IVA

T4b N0-2 M0 IVA

Any T N3 M0 IVA

Any T Any N M1 IVB

TNM: tumor, node, metastasis; AJCC: American Joint Committee on Cancer; UICC: Union for International Cancer Control.

Used with permission of the American College of Surgeons, Chicago, Illinois. The original source for this information is the AJCC Cancer Staging Manual,
Eighth Edition (2017) published by Springer International Publishing.
Graphic 111221 Version 2.0
Regional lymph nodes of the stomach

Used with permission of the American College of Surgeons, Chicago, Illinois. The original source for this information is the AJCC
Cancer Staging Manual, Eighth Edition (2017) published by Springer International Publishing.

Graphic 111191 Version 2.0


Imaging metastatic gastric carcinoma with CT and PET CT

An axial CT image through the upper abdomen shows gastric wall thickening (arrow) and a group of large lymph nodes in the gastrohepatic
ligament (arrowhead). Image B is a PET CT and shows a hypermetabolic mass in the stomach (arrow) and metastatic lymph nodes in the
gastrohepatic ligament. Image C is an axial CT image through the thoracic inlet and shows a large lymph node in the supraclavicular region
(arrow). Image D is a PET CT showing hypermetabolic activity in the supraclavicular node indicating metastatic disease.

CT: computed tomography; PET: positron emission tomography.

Graphic 97799 Version 1.0